School district, teachers reach tentative agreement on distance learning

With less than two weeks until the start of the school year, the San Francisco Unified School District and its teachers’ union on Thursday reached a tentative agreement on how to proceed with virtual teaching this fall, a key step in developing remote learning schedules.

The deal with the United Educators of San Francisco was reached after a grueling 16-hour stretch of final negotiations that ended early Thursday morning.

Without the memorandum of understanding (MOU), administrators have been unable to develop class schedules and formats and teachers have been unable to properly prepare for them. Classes begin on Aug. 17 and teachers’ paid planning time begins next week.

UESF members are scheduled to vote on the agreement from Friday evening until Monday evening, according to the union. The Board of Education will vote on the agreement on Tuesday.

“We are unified in our commitment to each and every student having the best possible learning experience while learning from a distance,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “We heard from parents and students that they wanted more connection with their peers and teachers than was possible last spring. We are listening and share a commitment to making distance learning better this fall.”

While full details of the MOU are not yet public, UESF President Susan Solomon said each credentialed educator — including librarians and nurses — will spend two hours on live instructional time each day as part of their usual seven-hour workday. However, it has yet to be determined how much each student will get, as some of that live component includes one-on-one time while middle and high school students have multiple instructors.

The MOU also acknowledges that teachers need time to plan with colleagues and exchange best practices. Solomon noted that it should have been reached sooner, but that many educators have spent their summers off working and already have a rough idea of their fall learning plans that may be adjusted to specifics outlined in the MOU.

“Educators were as every bit as anxious as parents about what was going to happen,” Solomon said. “It’s too bad that it didn’t come sooner but it’s done now and everyone’s jumping in.”

There’s a language that notes the nature of the crisis means it could be updated with both party’s consent. And given the monumental obstacle to providing special education that’s often needed in person, a task force dedicated to the issue will meet in the next week or so before reporting back to Matthews and Solomon on findings.

What isn’t in the MOU is an agreement on any in-person education, which includes any efforts by individual schools to create their own pods, except to reiterate that it must be talked through with UESF. Another MOU will be drafted on the hybrid model that will later phase in in-person instruction when it’s safe.

“We would love to be in person with students but we want to keep everybody healthy and alive,” Solomon said. “The in-person instruction is not something we’re talking about [yet], as sad as it makes us.”

Board President Mark Sanchez said the number of minutes spent on the type of teaching has been an important issue for all parties.

State law requires kindergarten students have a minimum of 180 daily instructional minutes for both synched and individual learning, first through third graders will have 230 minutes, and fourth through 12th grades have 240 daily minutes.

“Principals, as they’re planning for the virtual reopening of their sites, they need to know what they expect of teachers in terms of what instruction is going to be live and what’s going to be though a set of pre-recorded lessons,” Sanchez said. “Now, the expectation will be solidified and I think that’s really helpful.”

The Board of Education formally approved a fall learning plan last week but it did not offer a clear picture of how remote learning would work. The plan said educators could engage in synchronous teaching, where the group is online together, or asynchronously at different times through a pre-recorded lesson, but didn’t offer specifics.

Instead, it broadly went over the first phase of distance learning and the second phase of a hybrid model with in-person instruction, like how students will be considered present by participating in live interaction and completing assignments. Regularly scheduled office is recommended to allow students and families to check in with teachers while students with disabilities will receive a new emergency learning plan.

Superintendent Vincent Matthews said further details were meant to be included in a yet-to-be-published distance learning guide.

Once the MOU is ratified, the district can begin sending out schedules and helping families and educators plan for the fall. Teachers return on Aug. 11 and will help finalize the remote learning plans.

“If not, that’s a huge setback,” Sanchez said. “I don’t anticipate that.”

This story was updated Friday with additional information.

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